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Appliance Deployment Made Easier with Comprehensive Guide
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January 31, 2012

Appliance Deployment Made Easier with Comprehensive Guide

By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor

There are many appliance deployment guides out there, some good and some not so good. One of the better ones we’ve seen is written by Austin Hipes, vice president of technology at NEI (News - Alert).

Titled “From Virtual Machine to Cloud Deployment,” it covers the important bases, which we’ll summarize here. There’s far too much good stuff to do it justice here. Trying to do so would be drinking from a firehose, so if you’re at all interested, we recommend you peruse the guide yourself for more in-depth breakdowns of particular steps.

Hipes notes that the cloud has become popular among those looking to reduce their physical infrastructure, as well as to reduce costs, which is usually the prime consideration. But you can’t just deploy applications in the cloud the way you would physically, so he walks you through what he considers “the four core elements required for moving virtual appliances to the cloud.”

Of the four, by far the most involved is the first one, which is development. Basically, Hipes says when developing an appliance image for a physical platform, traditionally what happens is that OEMs pick the right hardware platform, operating system, drivers, and management tools – but “as virtual appliances began to enter the market to supplement dedicated physical appliances, extra levels of complexity were added to the appliance development process.”

These extra levels include Hypervisor selection, since “choosing an environment that a potential customer does not want can lead to missed opportunities and additional porting work later.”

There’s the choice of cloud service providers, which you have to be careful with, since “there are currently no widely accepted standards for cloud computing infrastructure.” This means you have to check out the packaging, management, provisioning, and billing standards and practices of the different options.

Among the other development issues Hipes discusses are minimizing the appliance footprint, monitoring, securing traffic, and that bundle of joy known as licensing considerations.

The second general area, provisioning, which includes the key area of on-demand provisioning, Hipes refers to as “one of the greatest advantages of a cloud appliance model.” Beware, however, as there’s more to look at than simply “low cost and fast deployment models.”  Hipes warns that if an appliance is too difficult for non-techies, “it's likely to generate a customer support instance or even the abandonment of the effort entirely.” He also discusses customer installation issues you’ll want to avoid.

The third area is maintenance, and no, it’s not true that you’ll get rid of all your maintenance concerns by hiring a cloud provider. It’s probably a good idea to have some sort of external support team capable of notifying end users of “different device conditions,” Hipes says, such as “reaching the maximum service level provided by the appliance or slow network performance,” and doing something about it. You also need to make sure you have proper alert upon failure. You know, just in case.

And the fourth major area is updating, another area companies erroneously think they’ve washed their hands of when they sign on with a cloud hosting service. Hipes explains why this isn’t so, and discusses the merits of an update service to keep appliances current. “Update services can help provide both OS patches and application updates to cloud-based appliances to ensure that they have the latest features and bug fixes.”

The point here is not to simply assume that everything is being taken care of perfectly by your cloud provider. OEMs need to remain vigilant, too.

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David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Jamie Epstein

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