Who is pushing the private cloud: Users or vendors?

No two pundits, partners or customers seem to be able to agree exactly what a "private cloud" is/isn't. But that's not the only cloudy party of the cloud. There's also disagreement as to who wants private cloud computing.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

No two pundits, partners or customers seem to be able to agree exactly what a "private cloud" is/isn't. But that's not the only cloudy party of the cloud. There's also disagreement as to who wants private cloud computing.

Salesforce and Amazon execs have taken to calling the virtual private cloud -- when that term is used to mean hosting data on-premises but making use of pay-as-you-go delivery -- the "false cloud." Their contention is Microsoft, IBM, HP and other traditional tech vendors are pushing customers to adopt private cloud solutions so they can keep selling lots of servers and software to them. Their highest-level message is everything can and should be in the cloud; there's no need for any software to be installed locally.

Microsoft, for its part, is positioning itself as offering business customers a choice: Public cloud, private cloud or a mix of the two. Increasingly, especially in the small- and mid-size markets, however, Microsoft is leading with public cloud offerings, not with its on-premises offerings (something which even some of the company's own product groups are still having trouble digesting). Microsoft is going to use its upcoming Worldwide Partner Conference in July to try to get its partners on the same page, so that they see the cloud as their friend and not their margin destroyer.

But all the focus on public cloud doesn't mean Microsoft is de-emphasizing the private cloud. In fact, earlier this month, Microsoft officials said that its enterprise customers are the ones pushing the company to accelerate its private cloud strategy.  A recent IDC study seemed to back Microsoft's play: Enterprise IT customers says they want a mix of public and private cloud computing.

Vendor bickering and rhetoric aside, what do business customers want? Do they want a hybrid public/on-premises model or are they ready to be "all in" with the cloud?

At a half-day event in New York City this week sponsored by Amazon.com, a panel of four business users had their chance to present their stories as to why they decided to go with Amazon Web Services (AWS). It was interesting to hear some of these customers say they were committed to the public cloud, but then actually acknowledge that they wanted private cloud and hybrid models.

Marc Dispensa, Chief Enterprise Architect of IPG Mediabrands Global Technology Group, one of those customers, said he and his org spent three months evaluating the different cloud platforms out there. They looked at Amazon's AWS, RackSpace and Microsoft's Azure, among others, he said. While Mediabrands is/was primarily a Microsoft shop, meaning Azure would be "an easy fit for our developers," Mediabrands opted against it because of the limited SQL Server storage available, as well as because of Microsoft's "hybrid model" approach, Dispensa said.

But as he went on to describe Mediabrands' evolving plan, Dispensa noted that the group is moving their SharePoint data into the AWS storage cloud, but is planning to keep SharePoint installed on-premises. (That sounds like a hybrid model to me.) Dispensa also said that Mediabrands still hasn't ruled out entirely going with SharePoint Online, the Microsoft-hosted version of its SharePoint solution.

Another AWS customer, Michael Miller, the head of high performance computing services for Pfizer Research & Development (the group that handles cloud computing there), talked up Pfizer's use of Amazon's Virtual Private Cloud service. (Yes, even though Amazon officials say they think private cloud computing is not real cloud computing, Amazon did create a protected public cloud offering which the company calls Virtual Private Cloud.)

Miller said Pfizer wanted to extend its out datacenter by putting some of its internally-facing applications in the cloud.  So far, the company has deemed two-thirds of those applications to have been able to meet the compliance and security criteria provided by Amazon's Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). Miller said that without a secure offering like VPC, doing this kind of expansion would have been a "nonstarter" for the company.

Miller said that Linux has been working well for his group at Pfizer. He called out the fact that Windows applications record information into the operating system registry, making it harder to port them to the cloud. That's a problem of which the Softies are quite aware, and the biggest reason the company is planning to make application virtualization available as part of Virtual Machine Manager in the second half of 2011.

My biggest take-aways from Amazon's event were that Amazon and Microsoft are more similar than different, in terms of wanting to get enterprise customers into the cloud at a pace at which those users feel comfortable. To me, the talk of a "false cloud" seems to be a lot like Salesforce's "end of software" argument -- it's more of a slogan than the real way that Salesforce's products work and how customers (who still largely want offline data access) actually operate.

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