UPDATE Jan 26, 2012: Added governance to the list of forces driving private clouds.
This year, I was asked to chair the Private Clouds track at Cloud Connect. Over the past couple weeks, I have been working to nail down all the last little details and get everything headed in the right direction before the event arrives in mid-February. The track is looking really nice, and we’re doing our best to serve up some sizzling private cloud goodness to all the attendees.
In spite of the broad enterprise interest in private clouds, I still see attempts by some in the “cloud industry” to discredit private clouds as a concept. Over the past year, I have heard private clouds described as “faux clouds,” “BS,” “vapor,” “nothing but plain old IT,” and other generally pejorative names. Interesting, the sniping mostly seems to be coming from folks with a vested interesting public clouds. I have yet to see a private cloud proponent suggest that public clouds are somehow illegitimate.
To be sure, however, there is criticism of public clouds. Last week, for instance, I read through Bart Copeland’s blog post titled “Don’t Step in the FUD: The Real World Demands Private Cloud.” Bart is the CEO of ActiveState, which has developed a private PaaS product called Stackato, based on Cloud Foundry. In his post, Bart defends private clouds from the criticism of public cloud proponents. He makes the fundamental point that it really doesn’t matter what cloud pundits think, enterprises themselves are making the decision that private clouds have merit and they are building them.
At ServiceMesh, we deal with these same enterprise customers and our experience supports Bart’s conclusion. EVERY enterprise customer that ServiceMesh is working with is building a private cloud of one type or another. To put it another way, reality trumps theory every time.
Now, having established the fact that private clouds are real, a much more interesting question is what are the forces driving enterprises toward them? I think there are a few reasons why enterprises want private clouds:
- Private clouds build on established virtualization environments and present a more incremental adoption to cloud computing. If you’re an enterprise with an investment in virtualization, you can leverage that knowledge to build your private cloud. There is risk reduction there, though that is frequently more of a perception than a reality.
- Private clouds are perceived to sidestep some of the broad security concerns associated with public clouds. Again, in the limit, I think this is more of a perception than a reality, but enterprises want to hold onto the security reins right now, at least until they gain some cloud experience and feel more comfortable about ahandover.
- Private clouds can provide more controlled application performance. Many public clouds offer few, if any, performance guarantees beyond simple best-effort. If you’re unhappy with your AWS performance, for instance, you’re free to buy a bigger instance or more instances, but in no case can you call and complain that your SLA is not being met. With private clouds, at least you can yell at your own engineers.
- Private PaaS delivers portability and side-steps lock-in concerns. I don’t know too many enterprises that are considering public PaaS only right now. The perception is that public PaaS could result in lock-in and limit future enterprise flexibility. I think this is some of the hesitancy that Microsoft is experiencing with Azure, for instance. In contrast, enterprises view hybrid PaaS, with both public and private execution venues as the best of all worlds, providing both a scalable provider-based option with reduced lock-in. I think that’s the reason we see such considerable enterprise interest in Cloud Foundry, for instance. The only public PaaS that seems to diverge from this trend is Force.com. If enterprises have committed to Salesforce.com, then it’s far more likely that they will feel comfortable with the possible lock-in of Force.com.
- Private clouds provide a target for workloads with strong governance requirements. If your enterprise does business in a regulated market (e.g., banking, insurance, healthcare, pharma, etc.), then you might not have a choice on where certain workloads run. Your regulators and auditors may force you to run things internally. If that’s the case, then the only question is whether you want to run those restricted workloads in a traditional private IT environment (physical or virtualized), or whether you want to build something that operates as a private cloud.
Finally, I should point out that while every enterprise we’re talking to at ServiceMesh is building a private cloud, they are also all committed to public clouds. For some, that’s a phase 2 step. For others, they are going hybrid right from the get-go. And that’s why the controversy between proponents of public and private clouds is so senseless. It isn’t a question of public vs. private clouds. The market is speaking and it’s saying “both.”
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