What is a private cloud? I’ll tell you I don’t know. It is a mythical beast. Of course since cloud computing is such a new concept, anyone is welcome to take some liberty on the definition. I would argue that an infrastructure as a service offering should present most of the following characteristics.
- A set of computing resources that are available on a pay-for-use basis
- Computing resources that are managed via an API and require no physical interaction with hardware
- Low variable expense and only pay for what you use
- Scale up and down.
- Immediate server provisioning
- Provision of low-level building blocks services on a pay for use basis
- Converts capex into variable opex
- Self service infrastructure
Private clouds, for my money, are usually little more than virtualised server farms renamed to have the word cloud in the name. This term “private cloud” is one invented just to give people a feeling that they too can have “cloud” and be really modern even if they own all their own hardware and the related complications. There is so much hype around the term cloud that CIO/CTOs and IT professionals everywhere believe they must at least get dressed for the party, so they’re willing to believe in the private cloud. Here the problem is lack of education about what cloud is, and that’s why the term “private cloud” is so annoying I believe. It pretends to offer something it really can’t.
It’s not to say there aren’t benefits for enterprises building a “self service” style virtualised server environment. However, few manage to do so adequately, and even fewer manage to build anything like the higher level services offered by public cloud providers such as storage layers, managed database services and numerous other offerings. I would argue that the reason for adopting a so called “private cloud” is for one or a combination of the following reasons:
- Moving to the public cloud has been put in the too hard basket.
- There is a background, and poorly defined fear of the security implications for moving to the cloud
- There’s a complete lack of expertise in cloud infrastructure inside the organisation
- IT doesn’t want to leave their physical location and tacking a “private cloud” badge on top of their existing infrastructure seems much easier than moving to a public cloud. (often times it is much harder than a wholesale move to public cloud)
- The IT team have convinced management that “private cloud” is really just as good, or *even better* than public cloud, sighting terms like “security” and “data sovereignty” and it’s worked.
Again the issue here is a fundamental lack of understanding of cloud. I truly believe that technology can be a key differentiator for not just tech companies, but many enterprises. This is our advantage, our “cloud advantage” if you will – we have the experience uncovering the benefits of a real cloud adoption in a factual and pragmatic way.
As I’ve said several times before on this blog, the benefits of a cloud adoption usually fall into the following buckets:
- Reduced cost
- Increased operational agility
- Superior technical facilities.
I just don’t see that a private cloud provides these benefits. Building a private cloud on existing hardware can reduce waste, but fails to deliver the fundamental economic change that cloud does. While on-demand private cloud resources may provide increased flexibility, the organisation still has to carry the overhead of managing their own hardware, or paying someone else to do it. To be sure, users of AWS or Google cloud are paying for others to manage hardware, but the simply answer is, they’re just much better at it and are able to pass on the economies of scale to customers unlike many traditional managed services companies. The final point about superior technical facilities is an interesting one. It’s usually the perception in IT that they’re unable to get the right “technical requirement” in the cloud where as they can certainly build it themselves. What usually ends up being uncovered is that the wins for such a company in using cloud services such as S3 or RDS or BigTable and the like are massive in comparison, and don’t have to be built in house, provided they’re able to alter their applications just a little. They usually don’t see what it is they’re missing out on, and once the technical team become aware of it, they’re sold! A private cloud just can’t offer these sorts of building-block services that engineers and sysadmins are realising more and more they can’t live without. To me cloud means massive economies and specialist technical know-how on behalf of the providers, and as such, private cloud remains a mythical beast indeed.