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Let a Private Cloud Manage Your Technology Automatically

Used with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Website.

Ask your company's managers or employees what the cloud means to them and you're likely to hear about creating and sharing documents online, storing and downloading music, or video conferences with distant colleagues. But ask your IT staff what the cloud means to them and you'll hear accounts of cost savings, delight in finally having time to create new applications, and sighs of relief over eliminating routine chores by automating workflows and management of computing resources across the company.

Indeed, public clouds have opened up a world of opportunity for information workers and consumers, but for midsized companies, private clouds are helping IT departments streamline their operations and are offering tremendous new efficiencies in the way businesses operate and grow.

A private cloud is a data center populated by virtualized computers and hosted in a co-location or private data center or directly on premises. Wherever it is hosted, the private cloud provides IT services that are dedicated only to a single enterprise, distinguishing it from public clouds that generally are accessible to anyone who wishes to subscribe. In some cases, a private cloud can even be established within a public cloud; and, in part, it's this flexibility of placing IT infrastructure and services where they make the most sense for the company that makes the cloud so attractive to midmarket companies.

While public clouds usually offer applications to users as services, often termed software as a service (SaaS), private clouds offer businesses the opportunity to place all their infrastructure resources-computing, network and storage-in a security enhanced cloud, creating infrastructure as a service (IaaS). A private cloud also can house a company's platform for creating new applications used throughout the organization, an environment called platform as a service (PaaS).

Why shift these capabilities to a private cloud? The greatest benefit is the fact that the private cloud uses virtualized servers, which capitalize on the unused resources within the data center by effectively turning one server into many through the use of virtualization software, such as Microsoft Hyper-V. Instead of operating a separate server for each application (e.g., email, financial management, or database servers), companies with virtualized servers can run multiple applications and operating systems on each server, greatly reducing the number required. Virtualized servers also can automate the routine tasks involved in setting up, monitoring, changing and updating computers used by the company's entire staff, and they enable a company to add or remove services and scale capacity up or down on demand.

In businesses with thousands of employees, the monitoring and management of software and networks is a full-time job for a good-sized IT staff. When these processes are aggregated and automated, suddenly IT has far more time to create far more value for the company, whether in the form of new applications or new extensions of existing capabilities. The private cloud enables the IT workforce to focus on innovation by drawing on a cloud-based pool of computing resources to build on the company's current applications.

Moreover, the business saves money, not only on reducing the need to hire more IT staff but also on the ability to automatically roll out new and updated computing resources rapidly as the organization grows and people shift locations and responsibilities.

In short, private clouds can automate complex workloads in a midsized business and manage the computing devices in the company, whether it operates two sites or 200. Shifting the complexity of an organization's infrastructure to the cloud helps overhead costs tumble and IT staff gains time to focus on innovation. Private clouds have transformed the largest of enterprises, and they can do the same for midsized businesses, as well, offering midmarket companies the levels of return on investment that historically only large enterprises were able to achieve.

Target discovered the benefits of the private cloud when it worked with Microsoft to dramatically reduce the number of servers that it needed to operate and maintain in its stores. As do other large retailers, Target maintains a sophisticated point-of-sale operation that, in addition to processing transactions, helps Target managers stock their shelves appropriately and track sales trends. Target staff use computers and mobile devices all day long to keep the company running up to date and efficiently. In all, Targets' 1,755 retail stores embrace more than 300,000 endpoints for data, including servers, computers, point-of-sale registers, kiosks and mobile devices.

To manage all this information, every Target store has traditionally had its own control room with its own network and computing capacity inside the store. Every store had seven servers that operated a suite of applications, from point-of-sale solutions to security, inventory management, stock replenishment and pharmacy applications, as well as database, infrastructure and asset-protection applications. When IT developed an application for a store, another server would need to be added just to run that software. Server sprawl had become very expensive, and Target management sought a way to contain it.

In addition, the Target Technology Services team had to deploy new software, application upgrades and security updates at night during just a few hours between store closing and opening time, a challenging task.

To resolve these issues, Target implemented a Microsoft virtualization solution, virtualizing all the applications in every one of its U.S. retail stores. It combined Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V virtualization technology, allowing every server in the data center to be managed from the company's Minneapolis headquarters. In 2010, Target began migrating these virtual workloads, its point-of-sale system and its asset-protection applications to Hyper-V hosted on new Dell R701 servers. This shift allowed Target to reduce its hardware to just two servers per store. These virtual servers run all the software that previously required seven separate servers at each location.

Today, Target employs Microsoft's System Center data center to streamline the way it manages and updates its network's 300,000 endpoints. At each store, a System Center Configuration Manager acts as a distribution point for security updates and application upgrades for 172 devices. This centralized solution monitors all of the store's technology for any problems and manages software distribution.

Target reports that, with this private cloud that enabled it to consolidate thousands of servers, the company is spending much less time and money on its physical infrastructure and, with fewer servers, is spending less on monthly maintenance contracts, too. In this manner, Target has freed up dollars for investments in business-process automation and in deploying new applications for customers and team members. Further, with fewer physical server boxes, Target's infrastructure now has fewer potential points of failure, while maintaining redundancy by replicating applications on both Hyper-V host servers in each store.

The private cloud works just as effectively for companies with dozens of outlets as it does for those with hundreds or thousands, and Microsoft offers proven, effective, easy-to-use tools that no other technology company can furnish. Microsoft solutions deploy virtualized workloads on a more flexible scale with better performance and greater cost efficiencies than any other solution provider can offer. Automation with Microsoft solutions allows IT personnel to build complex workflows that automatically manage services, maintain devices and push out upgrades end-to-end across the network, to servers, desktops and cell phones. Moreover, the cost of Microsoft's private cloud solution is approximately one-third that of VMware.

By extracting their IT infrastructure and placing it a private cloud, midsized companies can reap the benefits of automation and end-to-end management of workloads, dynamically distributing the level of inventory they need so they can focus on high-value applications instead of infrastructure maintenance.

If your objectives are to help reduce IT costs, simplify operations and rededicate your IT staff to higher value contributions to the company's future, the private cloud has you covered. Learn more at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/cloud/cloudpowersolutions/private_cloud.aspx?fbid=d9QJ8Y5bHVJ.

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