Private cloud discredited, part 2

Private cloud discredited, part 2

Summary: Two respected enterprise cloud pioneers have provided the evidence I'd been waiting for to declare private cloud a busted flush.


I wrote part 1 of this post last October, highlighting a Microsoft white paper that convincingly established the economic case for multi-tenant, public clouds over single-enterprise, private infrastructures. Part 2 would wait, I wrote then, for "the other shoe still waiting to drop ... a complete rebuttal of all the arguments over security, reliability and control that are made to justify private cloud initiatives. The dreadful fragility and brittleness of the private cloud model has yet to be fully exposed."

The other shoe dropped last month, and from an unexpected direction. Rather than an analyst survey or research finding, it came in a firestorm of tweets and two blog posts by a pair of respected enterprise IT folk. One of them is Adrian Cockcroft, CIO of Cloud Architect for Netflix, a passionate adopter of public cloud infrastructure. The other is Christian Reilly, who engineers global systems at a large multinational and had been a passionate advocate of private cloud on his personal blog and Twitter stream until what proved to be a revelatory visit to Netflix HQ:

"The subsequent resignation of my self imposed title of President of The Private Cloud was really nothing more than a frustrated exhalation of four years of hard work (yes, it took us that long to build our private cloud)."

Taken together, the coalface testimony of these two enterprise cloud pioneers provides the evidence I'd been waiting for to declare private cloud comprehensively discredited — not only economically but now also strategically. There will still be plenty of private cloud about, but no one will be boasting about it any more.

As both these individuals make clear, the case for private cloud is based on organizational politics, not technology. The pace of migration to the public cloud is dictated solely by the art of the humanly possible. In Cockcroft's words, "There is no technical reason for private cloud to exist." Or as Reilly put it, "it can bring efficiencies and value in areas where you can absolutely NOT get the stakeholder alignment and buy in that you need to deal with the $, FUD and internal politics that are barriers to public cloud."

Cockcroft's post systematically demolishes the arguments for public cloud:

  • Too risky? "The bigger risk for Netflix was that we wouldn't scale and have the agility to compete."
  • Not secure? "This is just FUD. The enterprise vendors ... are sowing this fear, uncertainty and doubt in their customer base to slow down adoption of public clouds."
  • Loss of control? "What does it cost to build a private cloud, and how long does it take, and how many consultants and top tier ITops staff do you have to hire? ... allocate that money to the development organization, hire more developers and rewrite your legacy apps to run on the public cloud."

Then he adds his killer punch:

"The train wrecks will come as ITops discover that it's much harder and more expensive than they thought, and takes a lot longer than expected to build a private cloud. Meanwhile their developer organization won't be waiting for them."

But it's Reilly who adds the devastating coup de grace for private cloud:

"Building the private cloud that is devoid of any plan or funding to make architectural changes to today’s enterprise applications does not provide us any tangible transitional advantage, nor does it position our organization to make a move to public cloud."

In a nutshell, an enterprise that builds a private cloud will spend more, achieve less and increase its risk exposure, while progressing no further along the path towards building a cloud applications infrastructure. It's a damning indictment of the private cloud model from two CIOs top enterprise cloud architects who have practical, hands-on experience that informs what they're saying. Their message is that private cloud is a diversion and a distraction from the task of embracing cloud computing in the enterprise. It can only make sense as a temporary staging post in the context of a systematically planned transition to public cloud infrastructure.

[UPDATED 03:45am April 14: I have made small amendments to Christian Reilly and Adrian Cockcroft's job descriptions at their request.  Reilly also commented via Twitter that this post "doesn't really capture the spirit my blog was written in," which I completely accept. He went on: "the point of the blog was to highlight the differences in how enterprises approach cloud versus orgs who build their business on it." Read his original post.]

Topics: CXO, Cloud, Hardware, Servers, Virtualization

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

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

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  • Utter nonsense.

    Not even worth commenting on beyond that.
    John Zern
    • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

      @John Zern Thank you for that insightful and well developed opinion piece. Others might have enjoyed his hard work and research.
  • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

    Curious to learn how companies using public Clouds can adequately address the requirements of the various regulations. And as a Netflix customer who has provided them non-public personal information (NPPI) that includes data elements governed by PCI I sort of demand they prove that I'm protected.
    • What part of PCI certification ...


      ... would necessarily be impossible to show if the infrastructure is sitting in a public cloud (please refer to specific sections of the PCI standards)?
      • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

        @RationalGuy Not sure I understand your remark. Of course you know Amazon Web Services is PCI compliant (certification for PCI I obtained a few months ago)? Btw Netflix, runs on top of AWS as far as I know.
  • Message has been deleted.

    • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

      @ZDNET censor@...

      Guess my pointing out that the companies likely to own the public cloud pricing policy are not likely to pass on efficiencies to customers ... was too much to bear by the ZDNET thought police. I must write to Foremski and ask him about 'the real value of journalism'.

      Perhaps the poster would care to explain how the cost of AMAZON storage or the cost of M$'$ Office 365 Plan E at $324 per year passes on economies of cloud scale to the customer?
  • Tepid defence of public clouds does not "discredit" private clouds

    Hi Phil,

    Your "discrediting" of private clouds in this piece consists of an appeal to authority, where you serve up two CIO's who are Public Cloud enthusiasts, one of them a recent convert (or an apostate).

    "The coalface testimony of these two enterprise cloud pioneers" tells me nothing new. In the case of Netflix, public clouds are perfect for some. In the case of Bechtel, some botch their private cloud implementation.

    How does this discredit the fact that Private Clouds are perfect for thousands of other CIOs and organisations that prefer them for a multiplicity of reasons and implement them properly with the right tools?

    The case for private cloud is not based solely on organizational politics, not technology. There are compelling technical reasons for many to choose specific private cloud solutions over public cloud offerings.

    Scalability is not everything. Some, soberly and in full knowledge, trade economies of scale for features and performance.

    I agree that many of the arguments against public clouds are bunk, but so are declarations that private clouds are "discredited".

    By addressing - not "demolishing" - some of the objections to public clouds, Cockcroft does not discredit private clouds.

    Hi "killer punch" as you label it is true but also completely irrelevant.

    Cockburn predicts "train wrecks" as companies "discover that it?s much harder and more expensive than they thought, and takes a lot longer than expected to build a private cloud."

    There have been companies (like Bechtel) that have found this to be true, but there are those who have had extremely successful, low cost, speedy private cloud deployments.

    You cannot discredit private clouds because some people messed up their implementations.

    As for O'Reilly's "devastating coup de grace" ( plenty of hyperbole today, huh!) , he merely asserts that building a private cloud without matching it with architectural changes to their applications, did not confer THEM with any advantage nor position THEM to move to the public cloud.

    Is that really the coup de grace for private clouds?

    So in a nutshell, you are asserting because some enterprises will botch their private cloud implementations (spend more, achieve less and increase its risk exposure) and not progress towards building a cloud applications infrastructure, that this is the story of private clouds.

    We it is not.

    Enterprises that build private clouds may well spend less, achieve more, lower their risks, satisfy their regulatory obligations and do so with a fully matured cloud application infrastructure deployed entirely on perfect-for-purpose private cloud platform.
    As Reilly quotes Hoff: "Use the right tool for the right job and the right time and the right cost". For many, its a private cloud, for technical reasons. For others, its public cloud, for financial reasons.

    I think this bogus private versus public clouds debate is the real diversion and a distraction from the task of helping the embrace of cloud computing in the enterprise.
    • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

      @jondavis01 Beautiful reply Jon. Thank you for posting it.

      Mike Michalik | CEO
    • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2


      Seconded, excellent response. I'm thinking government as the screaming example. They'll be building private clouds I assume, not just sticking their (our) data on Amazon's servers.

      Reducing costs through economies of scale is a valid point, but some companies are so big they can generate their own, e.g. General Electric, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Walmart.
    • brilliantly stated

      @jondavis01 Couldn't have said better myself. No different then the windows versus linux discussion...right tool for the right job at the right time.
    • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

      @jondavis01 Well put! Organisations can save huge amounts of money by not using public cloud infrastructure based on its cost models when the benefits of a multi-tenant cloud are not required or desired.

      Further, internally built clouds can be a quantum leap for an organisation. We shed over 90% of our physical infrastructure to migrate it to a 'private cloud' - reduced 75% of our datacentre management costs associated with electricity and cooling - freed up space for us to grow in to again - and our private cloud costs a fraction of using the equivalent bandwidth and processing on a public cloud!

      We also use a public multi-tenant cloud for hosting our externally facing applications because they have provisions around delivery that we could never match internally. This has cost us more in the short term - but the overheads of hardware and support should break it even within 12 months.

      It's all about the right tool for the job!
  • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

    I agree with the viewpoint and I think that the private cloud is a tool to support this temporary stage of moving application and data into the public cloud computing. Phil is mentioning Adrian Cockcroft's (The Cloud Architect for Netflix) that talks about the "fear" of the CIO about "the unsecure public cloud". I personally think this is an excuse and this will slow down a positive evolution, though don't be suprised if a much faster adoption will hit the current expectations of the analysts (i.e Gartner).

    I Am OnDemand
  • Easy to address the benefits of one (public)

    and disadvantages of the other (private), while totally ignoring the disadvantages of the public, and the advantages of the private.

    You can claim anything you want at that point.
    Will Farrell
  • BS

    This is obviously part of a marketing campaign to feed Microsofts Cloud services products.
    Anyone with an ounce of IT savvy should see right through this campaign of misinformation. It is total BS for MOST companies who already have large IT resources and budgets and lots of legacy apps. It will be another 10 years before entire apps can be rebuilt from scratch for the cloud-model for most large organizations. Then there is the problem that, if your internet goes down ever, you loose access to EVERYTHING, and your entire business come to a stop. Internet links are always going down in different areas, just ask someone who works for the ISP's.
  • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

    This is a bit of a strawman.<br><br>The real issue is "cloud" type infrastructure at all.<br><br>I've built two companies on top of AWS (Rebel Money and the current Blue Fang Games) and in both cases AWS was more expensive, less reliable and more trouble then a co-lo solution. AWS style virtualization is horribly inefficient (built on top of VMs like Vmware) to begin with, and renting is always more expensive then owning. the fact of the matter is you DO lose any visibility into what your real hardware is and what it is doing-- we've had amazon instances fail multiple times from hardware failures and clocked *very* different performance from supposedly identical nodes. These were just a few of the issues encountered.<br><br>Why did we do it? Twice? It is convenient. It means you can avoid a commitment early on in a startup's life to a minimal hardware set and the time it takes to ramp up a colo situation.<br><br>But most of the rest of the cloud promises are still just promises. For anything beyond dumb web servers, the software isn't there to act like a utility and take machines on and off line automatically as needed. It takes too long, anyway, to ramp up an instance to do this on a frequency of much more then whole days<br><br>
    The compute cloud is still much like a real cloud... primarily vapor.
  • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

    Interesting article, seems crazy that twitter posts are able to be used as evidence to support an argument. The phrase "taking it out of context" comes to mind, with 140 characters no context is allowed so we just have speculations. I see this cloud movement as something only for big business to cut costs on data storage. In a small business if you have a single server os you can do everything the cloud offers. 2tb drives are under $100, I just dont see how a small business would benefit from the move. Granted I will note I am much more of a self reliant person, and would much rather have the job of keeping care of my own data than hand it over to a cloud and trust in their privacy measures however sound they may be. But much less of a chance someone tries to get my data stored on my personal servers than someone stealing data from a massive cloud full of all sorts of information. I would argue that sometimes we push these ideas once the technology exists and then we think about if we should have. What happened to thinking before acting?
  • Cloud? Why not to do something right for the sake of variety?

    An office PC costs $500 and lasts for 3-5 years. This is less than a fraction of the salary of the person operating that PC. A PC under a desk does not limit the creativity of the person at the desk. I doubt the same can be said about a cloud. One single spark of creativity may bring more income to a company than the cost of all its PCs and servers combined. So, no cloud benefits are seen from the client side.

    Are there any benefits of moving the servers to the cloud that plain outsourcing does not provide? Theoretically, yes - they can react better to a sudden peak load. However, a SETI at home type of software can react even better.

    Since the idea of a cloud is both absurd and popular, I guess cloud will develop into a very efficient money milking buzzword shortly. As for the topic of the article, I just do not care what kind of cloud will be more profitable to explain to clients.
    • RE: Private cloud discredited, part 2

      @gak@... "Will develop"? The currently trendy usage of "cloud" was a "money milking buzzword" from day one. Take just about any advertisement from 1996 about "The Web" and replace "The Web" with "The Cloud" and bingo - recycled buzz for thousands of marketing dweebs who couldn't tell you the difference between a switch and a toaster.
  • Any cloud system is a disaster in the making.

    Time will prove that.