Building a cloud? Prepare for a rough ride.

I have done many difficult things in my life. Built businesses, am a husband to a lovely wife and a father to two young boys. I have been involved with complex technological projects, and seen success and failure on all fronts. But nothing prepares you for the sheer technical challenge of building a public cloud platform.

The easy bit is deciding that you want to do it, the tough bit is getting it done. It is the kind of project that forces networking, server, application and business support teams to work together in ways you have never imagined. As I sit here writing this, I realize how ill prepared I was for certain aspects of this journey. Before finding the partner with whom my platform is now being built, I courted several venture capitalists. I was convinced that a pile of money and motivation is all that is needed to succeed. Use the money, add the right people to the team and build what is needed. No, that is not the way it turned out. I was right on the investment front, but I totally underestimated the human capital required. To get to where we are today required:

a) A skilled and experienced networking team. Guys who build Service Provider and Telco grade networks. They understand routing, switching, peer connectivity and the intricacies of building highly scalable, resilient data networks.

b) Security experts. Not just fire-walling, but all manner of policy compliance, governance and audit specialists. People who understand security not only as a set of technologies, but also the mindset of hackers and consumers.

c) Datacentre experts who understand datacentre operations and can implement and deploy technology in these environments according to best practises.

d) Infrastructure experts that understand the world of cabling, generators, battery backup systems, server power requirements and cooling.

e) A project management team to tie all the other teams together and drive our processes and tasks.

f) A full team of finance and procurement specialists, that bring expertise in procurement, global logistics, taxation, legal expertise and human capital management.

g) Branding, design and communications staff with globally recognised skill in brand development and stakeholder communication.

h) Open source technology generalists, who leverage their skills to be on the cutting edge of open source software deployment and management.

i) Proprietary software guys, who work with the images and process to support all manner of proprietary software.

j) Software developers who build the custom automation code and software pieces required to bring our vision to life.

k) Finally, a competent and visionary management team to understand the vision, accept the changes and drive the technology and people to new heights.

Thousands of man hours of work has now been logged against this project, and we are not live yet. I’ll do a follow up story where I give some of my top tips for building cloud infrastructure, but let me share just one for now…make sure you have a solid understanding of your underlay network, it’s function and layout. Certain technologies are extremely dependant on what you do in your network underlay. The network does not have to be complicated, but it needs to be fast, with a powerful Software Defined Network overlay. You will not believe how complicated some of the network plugins can be. (Here’s a secret, we are not running OpenvSwitch but another SDN technology). Make your network plugin choice early, and make sure your underlay network is designed to work with it and its capabilities. As a rule, there is no migration path from one network plugin to another. Make the wrong choice early on, and you’ll have to buy hardware for a second platform, migrate your workloads and thrash your initial platform, adding it back as capacity for your new cloud after a re-build. Painful.

In the mean time, head over to www.wingu.co.za and sign up for our newsletter. You’ll be added to our list of people who receive a R 250 voucher to try our cloud services when we launch. Yes, we are cool like that 🙂

About Thomas Lee

I am a technology entrepreneur, father of two young boys, and husband to Mari. Love technology, audio and stuff with wheels.
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