'Private cloud' = just another buzzword for on-premise datacenter?

VMware made its big "private cloud" pitch last week with its introduction of vSphere. Not to be outdone, Microsoft is fleshing out its private cloud positioning at the annual Microsoft Management Summit this week in Las Vegas.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

VMware made its big "private cloud" pitch last week with its introduction of vSphere. Not to be outdone, Microsoft is fleshing out its private cloud positioning at the annual Microsoft Management Summit this week in Las Vegas.

Whether or not they admit it publicly (or just express their misgivings relatively privately), Microsoft officials know the "private cloud" is just the newest way of talking about an on-premise datacenter. Sure, it's not exactly the same mainframe-centric datacenter IT admins may have found themselves outfitting a few years ago. But, in a nutshell, server + virtualization technology + integrated security/management/billing  = private cloud.

Microsoft's "official" description of the distinction between private and public clouds basically says as much. From a press release the company issued this morning:

The private cloud: "By employing techniques like virtualization, automated management, and utility-billing models, IT managers can evolve the internal datacenter into a 'private cloud' that offers many of the performance, scalability, and cost-saving benefits associated with public clouds. Microsoft provides the foundation for private clouds with infrastructure solutions to match a range of customer sizes, needs and geographies.

The public cloud: "Cloud computing is expanding the traditional web-hosting model to a point where enterprises are able to off-load commodity applications to third-party service providers (hosters) and, in the near future, the Microsoft Azure Services Platform. Using Microsoft infrastructure software and Web-based applications, the public cloud allows companies to move applications between private and public clouds."

Microsoft recently got tripped up by the public cloud lingo when company execs gave off confusing mixed signals regarding whether or not Microsoft planned to make its Azure cloud operating system available to IT customers to use on-premise. In the end, the Softies admitted Azure was not something Microsoft planned to allow others to run in their own datacenters, but promised they'd make a solid private cloud platform, based on Windows Server, Hyper-V and other Microsoft wares, available to customers who were less enthusiastic about moving their data and apps to a Microsoft-hosted datacenter.

Is there more Microsoft could and should do to make the concept of the "private cloud" more meaningful? One reader says there is:

"It would take a helluva lotta development and testing to emulate Azure's automatic scale-out and scale-up, semi-automatic app deployment and other 'autonomic' Azure features to enable multi-tenant services. This is especially true with SQL Data Services (SDS) moving to a fully(?) relational model and needing some way to automate partitioning of SQL Server instances."

For now, Microsoft is touting a handful of shipping and/or soon-to-be-shipping tools and services as fleshing out its private cloud, including:

  • The already announced Dynamic Datacenter Toolkit for Enterprises and Dynamic Datacenter Toolkit for Hosters. The former is a bunch of tools, service-level agreements and tech and marketing guidance to help IT users deploy Microsoft products in their datacenters; the latter is the same kinds of tools and guidance aimed at hosting partners developing on-demand managed services
  • System Center Online Desktop Manager, an integrated security and management tool that will provide desktop management capabilities in the form of an online service. The service is due to go to beta before the end of this year. (I guess that's at least one of the pieces of the anticipated Microsoft-hosted "System Center Online" offerings.)
  • Forefront Online Security for Exchange, a new service that is in beta and is the first of Microsoft's expected stable of hosted security offerings that the company will release under the "Forefront Online" name
  • Microsoft's now-shipping Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) of communications and collaboration software
  • System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2, a final release of which is planned within 60 days

Update (April 29): In an April 28 blog posting, Microsoft Senior Director of Development Platform Management Steven Martin added some more "here now" and "coming soon" items to Microsoft's list of what if offers "private cloud" customers. In the here now category Martin included: Management tools like VMM, which allow users to "connect the compute power from your servers into a single, logical resource"; and provide automated provisioning of compute resources. On his coming soon list, Martin listed a number of Windows Server 2008 R2 features, like live-migration support for Hyper-V; larger VM support (for 32 and 64-bit VMs with up to 64GB of memory per VM); and the ability to boot from VHD and clustered shared volumes. Martin reiterated that the Windows Server and Azure teams are sharing code and knowledge and said Microsoft's ultimate goal is to make the Azure Services platform and an enterprise data center "technically speaking, largely indistinguishable."

What's your take? Is "private cloud" just a euphemism for on-premise datacenter? Or could and should there be other products, licensing arrangements, and services available to users who want to act as their own hosting agents? What would Microsoft need to put into a "private cloud" solution to get you onboard?

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