Cloud, it's a web thing

Cloud, it's a web thing

Summary: OK, let me concede for a moment that there is a use case for private cloud, but only with heavy qualification and many caveats. That doesn't mean anything I'm going to say will please the proponents of private cloud.


Having read (hat-tip Dennis Howlett) Randy Bias' article at Kendallsquare on Debunking the "No Such Thing as a Private Cloud" Myth I have to say — rather like the apocryphal Irish direction-giver — if I'd wanted to make a case for private cloud, I wouldn't have started from there. Randy and I joined a civilized conversation a few weeks back as a follow-up to my earlier post on this topic, and I fear he's already forgotten every dam' thing I said. So I guess I'll have to reiterate it.

But first, let me (shock, horror!) make the case, such as it is, for private cloud. It looks like we're stuck with the term, along with all the ugly implementations that are going to be classed under it and which I fear will ultimately lead to its becoming discredited — unfairly dragging the reputation of true cloud computing through the same mud as it does so. As you can see, I still distrust the term, mainly because it is so open to misinterpretation, and I shan't be using it myself without heavy qualification and many caveats — which, by the way, should make for an interesting panel discussion with Verizon, IBM and others that I'll be moderating at the All About Cloud event in San Francisco this May [see disclosure]. But I do see circumstances where it's possible to make a case for implementing cloud-like infrastructure in a private environment, and Randy, despite starting his exposition from completely the wrong starting point, does end up making a statement about private cloud with which I can heartily agree:

"The private cloud model is a critical transitional step. It is an essential component to help larger organizations move their compute capacity to the public cloud."

The thing that cloud purists and evangelists are too prone to forget is that most enterprises are heavily committed to existing investments in pre-cloud, on-premise infrastructure. These are assets they simply can't afford to throw away or retire just yet. Very few organisations are lucky enough to be able to start over with a clean sheet and move everything to the cloud in one fell swoop. Therefore, for the next few years, the vast majority of them are going to have a hybrid IT infrastructure — some of it in the cloud, some of it not. This was an important takeaway, by the way, from my interview with SAP CTO Vishal Sikka, which I published recently. They're going to need a way of bridging the two, and that's where some kind of cloud-like private infrastructure may come in useful, to mediate between what's already in the cloud and the other IT assets that are either transitioning towards the cloud or remaining on-premise.

Where Randy and I fundamentally disagree, however, is in our interpretation of the words 'private cloud' and in what we each regard as the key characteristics of this transitional infrastructure (nor am I prepared to join him in dignifying the notion with the status of a 'model'). Randy insists that cloud computing is essentially a business model (pay-as-you-go outsourcing) built on top of an architectural model (shared virtualized infrastructure), and completely ignores — no worse, attempts to deny — that it has anything to do with the Internet.

Yet in my view, the most important attribute of the cloud — too readily overlooked by many commentators — is that it lives in the Internet. The Internet dimension is crucial because it brings with it an obligation and a necessity to remain open to connections. It means that a cloud has to have:

  • Open APIs
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Collective scrutiny and innovation

The third of these is probably the most difficult to grasp and yet the most far-reaching in its impact. Any infrastructure or application service that lives on the Web as a shared resource is constantly tested by two separate yet complementary schools of users:

  • Skeptics that don't trust it
  • Enthusiasts that want to push the envelope of what's possible

Those two interest groups have a virtuous push-me, pull-you effect on the provider's infrastructure or application that ensures that it's constantly staying up-to-date both with every threat that might bring it down and with every emerging enhancement that could make it better. These dual competitive forces impel a cloud platform to evolve in ways that private platforms can never cost-justify. Anyone that designs a perfectly state-of-the-art cloud platform and deploys it to a private environment — even if that private environment is shared by thousands of distinct user organisations (and that's a tiny minority case) — cuts it off from the competitive pressures that ensure it continues to evolve and protects it from gradual yet inexorable decline into obsolescence.

Therefore, the only use case that I believe makes sense for private cloud is one where it acts as a temporary transition chamber. Either as a controlled environment where IT assets can be prepared for subsequent deployment to a fully cloud existence, or to mediate between public cloud assets and those left operating within the private enterprise environment. A private cloud that helps IT assets move towards the public, Internet-immersed cloud, I can live with. Anything that's designed instead to somehow avoid connecting to the wider Web is just missing the point.

Topics: Cloud, Banking, Browser, CXO, Enterprise Software

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Private clouds are no more than a transition pt

    Phil, great post, especially about how public clouds are fundamentally different than private clouds. I love the 3rd point about public clouds bringing broad community-driven innovation to all customers. This is a core point about public clouds that is completely missed by most commentators. Salesforce is a great example of this, both in terms of the parade of user-driven features that they release at a furious pace and the capabilities they keep layering on to their platform. The crucial differences from traditional software are the fact that the innovation is user-driven (based on real-time feedback across the user base), fast (because of the speed of cloud development and the need to support just one version) and delivered to all customers (because everyone runs on the same instance).
    • Different BUSINESS Environments require different TECHNICAL environments

      A few points as to why many enterprises are going for a 'private cloud' model.

      1) In your general enterprise system, change is (generally) considered bad;
      a) involves risk to the BUSINESS system,
      b) makes comparison (YTD v LYTD) difficult

      2) Enterprises have already outsourced the non strategic things (payroll, etc); the things they do differently are the thing retained 'in-house'. The business wants to keep even the IT around these processes close at hand, because that is what differentiates them from the competition.

      3) Most enterprises have to live up to serious privacy and anti-disclosure laws. I have customers WILL NOT use US based cloud vendors because of the PATRIOT Act. Its even more difficult if you don't actually know where your data or system exists.

      4) The 3rd set of users that Phil forget to mention, the cracker. I have been told by a major user of Amazon (for testing SAP implementations) that their images get aprox 3000 probes a month. this ties with the previous point; many enterprises aren't willing to trust the cloud yet - either security or availability.

      There's a few others, as mentioned by Phil (existing investment in hardware and / or methodologies, etc), but these four will do for now :)
  • All network/community benefits are only available inthe public (SaaS) cloud

    What about the network and community affect of multi-tenant interactions in Cloud based SaaS applications.

    Buy a Transportation Management System and put it in your private cloud and on day 1 it is connected to zero carriers and provides you with zero opportunity to discover and connect to new carriers.

    Use a SaaS Multi-tenant TMS and you are connected to 10,000 carriers on day 1 and can establish contracts with whoever you choose and discover others for ad hoc loads or permanent use.
  • Cloud is still not ready for prime time

    IT financing is only one of the major roadblocks.
    Secure connections, secure storage, intellectual property rights, rights to protect against searches and seizures, and business/consumer centric exit strategies also need to happen.

    If your company deals with peoples private information and your companies policy is to keep that data private, you can't use the cloud as it is implemented now. Same with corporate secrets. A corporation has legitimate reasons for not disclosing strategic data.

    Also it needs to be clear that when a company uses cloud services to generate content, that content remains the property of the company, not the property of the cloud service provider. Imagine writing a novel with a cloud based word processor and storing it in the cloud. You find a publisher to buy your novel and all of a sudden you find out you don't have the right to sell the novel because you don't own it.

    Cloud exit strategies are also important. Your company uses a cloud service to provide a product to your customers. The cloud service goes out of business or gets sold and all of a sudden your company tanks.

    Different types of outsourced components require different answers. If you outsource your physical power production and you have mission critical power needs, you buy a generator to bridge and outage gaps.
    If your company decides to outsource it's IT, there had better be some solutions along the way to fill in outage gaps and provide a strategy for the common occurrences of a capitalistic business model. Personally I don't approve of businesses that have governmental back guaranteeing they will never go out of business so I would want something that provides a cushion for my business during a cloud companies dissolution. In other words, if my company goes out of business for no fault of my own other than not having choices and exit strategies for cloud services, I deserve it because I didn't belong on the cloud in the first place. So I refuse to go on the cloud until there are some guarantees my business continues even if the cloud services does not.

    So a cloud company better have an exit strategy in place before I would even look at them. I would be a stupid business person otherwise.
  • RE: Cloud, it's a web thing

    The central premise of your blog is about private clouds curtailing innovation. In principle, I would tend to agree, but only for those enterprises that value innovation over factors such as platform flexibility and security/privacy.

    I also agree with your hybrid cloud assertion is a short term phenomenon. However, I think the key reason that businesses are opting for a private cloud is because the they wants the flexibility of a cloud model but are unable to find providers who can meet their needs today.
  • Get out of the vacuum

    We need to be careful in these types of discussions to remember that for most of us we either develop or implement technology not for the sake of technology itself. We are supporting or enabling an end goal of a business or endeavor, sometimes critical sometimes not. The cloud concept is simply a next stage in our evolution to be more flexible in that breadth of offering. A mature approach then involves an intelligent combination that is both appropriate and highly effective for the very business or endeavor that we are trying to support.